By Dustin Albino

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Brake fade is never a good sign in a racecar. It‘s something that Christopher Bell experienced in the opening run of Sunday‘s Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway. 

After starting in 13th position, Bell methodically drove to ninth in the opening stage. The No. 20 team, which had pit road mishaps earlier in the postseason, gained Bell track position to start the second stage. 

While William Byron dominated the early portion of the season finale, leading 95 laps, Bell was racing hard with the other two Championship 4 competitors, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, for fifth position. On lap 108, however, Bell‘s chance to win the championship ended abruptly. 

Bell had his right-front brake rotor explode going down the backstretch. The No. 20 Toyota pounded the outside wall and Bell limped back to his pit stall. The Adam Stevens-led crew assessed the damage but realized quickly that its race was done, just past the one-third mark. 

That was my first time I‘ve ever exploded a rotor in my career,” Bell said from the infield care center. “I was surprised, but early on in the race, I had a little bit of brake fade and the second run it just kept getting worse and worse. Just obviously a disappointing way to end.”

Bell said there was no sign of a potential brake failure during practice on Friday evening. Prior to the incident, he felt the No. 20 team was a couple of adjustments away from being in contention for the championship.

“We were all four really close and we all four showed strengths at different times,” Bell said.

Bell was credited with a last-place finish. It was his first DNF since the 12th race of the season at Kansas Speedway. 

Entering the 2023 season among the championship favorites, Bell had mixed results throughout the season. He started the season with five top-five finishes in the opening eight races, highlighted by his win in the final dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The No. 20 team had a late spring and summer slump, going the next 16 races without posting a top-five finish. 

Once the playoffs rolled around, Bell got hot for the second season in a row. His third-place finish at Bristol was the lone bright spot in the Round of 16. His average finish of 11th in the Round of 12 was good enough to advance. The No. 20 car scored consecutive top-two finishes to start the Round of 8, advancing to the Championship 4 race by winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

Bell officially finished fourth in the 2023 championship standings. That‘s a solid season for any race team, but he believed the team could  achieve success more consistently. 

“I‘m very proud of the effort put forth by our team to get to the Championship 4, but I do feel like we left a lot on the table at various races throughout the year,” Bell said. “I‘m excited about the future. We haven‘t reached our potential yet.”

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